Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite quotes from some of the books I read in 2016

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman, Rom Brafman
~ Value attribution, after all, acts as a quick mental shortcut to determine what’s worthy of our attention. […] Once we attribute a certain value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information. This power of value attribution is so potent that it affects us even when the value is assigned completely arbitrarily. 

~ If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to work for a boss who values and believes in you, you’ll know that you tend to rise to meet the high expectations set for you. On the other hand, there’s nothing that will make you feel more incompetent and demoralized than a supervisor who is convinced you don’t have what it takes.

~ The more we become aware of the factors affecting the perceived value of a person or object, the less likely we are to be swayed by value attribution. 

Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett
~ The law makes no decisions. It has no will of its own. It’s like a weapon, or a tool: it works for those who pick it up and use it.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
~ They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting. 

~ She gave herself over to the sensations of the kiss, let it become the whole of her universe, and knew finally how it felt to be enough for someone.

~ […] everything makes a statement, nothing speaks quite so loudly as cheapness 

~ some images, once seen, can never be forgotten. 

~ Sophie was too old for lies and too young for the truth. 

~ She looked at Vianne, and the universe of their friendship was in her eyes—the secrets they’d shared, the promises they’d made and kept, the dreams for their children that bound them as neatly as sisters.

~ Once a mother, always a mother.

~ […] I am a mother and mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults. 

~ “Papa,” she said; it was such a big word suddenly, a dream in its entirety.

The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Gary DeMoss, Scott West, David Saylor
~ In my experience, overcoming skepticism is much more about emotion than it is about rationality. People must want to believe you before they will believe you. Much of the job of effective communication is about building that foundation of openness so that a message can be accepted. 

~ We are now communicating in the post-trust era (PTE). Yesterday’s trust has become today’s skepticism. 

~ We don’t want to be told what to think. If you are a parent, you have certainly learned that the quickest way to get your children to say no to something is to tell them that it is good for them. 

~ If you’re trying to sell something—widgets, ideas, candidates, anything—you face an uphill battle from the start because, quite frankly, people just don’t believe you, especially if you’re the one in charge.

~ Institutions must stand for something. Now more than ever, companies must actively think about what their brands symbolize to the public. 

~ Your language must be strategic, authentic, humble, and receptive to opposition.

~ The language of trust is the language of your audience. 

~ The fastest way to get someone to buy your product is to give them objective information and let them make up their own mind. 

~ Selling is about building trust, then offering the facts in a neutral, nonintimidating way and allowing the consumer to decide

~ When humorist Will Rogers noted that “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet” nearly a century ago, he was in a very real sense capturing part of today’s mind-set for creating trust. When you engage people as friends you haven’t met yet, you start building the personal relationships that will guide you past today’s walls of initial skepticism. 

While You Were Mine by Ann Howard Creel
~ Separately we might have sunk, but together we moved beyond bloodlines and nationalities and backgrounds and formed a vessel that somehow stayed afloat. 

~ If faces could tell stories, then John’s was open to the page where all seemed lost. 

~ […] New York City. He didn’t think there was any other place on earth where a person could be surrounded by throngs of others and still feel completely alone. A man could keep entirely to himself if he wanted to, or he could tell his story to every shoeshine, waitress, and hawker in the city. He could isolate himself in a hotel room or go out on the town, surrounded by thousands of people. There was something sad about it, all these people rushing around, but a man would never feel dead here. Just take a new street, or turn the next corner. Everything was so busy and in constant motion, and maybe that was part of the problem. 

~ Maybe humans, instead of being the highest form of life, were really the lowest.

~ Sometimes you know something, even when you don’t want to know it.

Яма by Александр Иванович Куприн (The Pit, by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin –Russian edition) 
~ Нет, вы подумайте: ведь только в одной русской душе могут ужиться такие противоречия!

~ Я говорю, что жизнь поражает, ставит в тупик своей диковинной путаницей и неразберихой.

~ Все мы проходим мимо этих характерных мелочей равнодушно, как слепые, точно не видя, что они валяются у нас под ногами. 

~ Потому что сама по себе жизнь или чересчур обыденна и скучна для тебя, или уж так чересчур неправдоподобна, как только умеет быть неправдоподобной жизнь. 

~ Человек рожден для великой радости, для беспрестанного творчества, в котором он — бог, для широкой, свободной, ничем не стесненной любви ко всему […]

~ Пока будет собственность, будет и нищета. Пока существует брак, не умрет и проституция. Знаешь ли ты, кто всегда будет поддерживать и питать проституцию? Это так называемые порядочные люди, благородные отцы семейств, безукоризненные мужья, любящие братья. 

The Secret Healer (The Secret Healer Series) by Ellin Carsta
~ You have to make a decision and live with the consequences

~ But we all make mistakes. Some more than others. And yet, we always have the opportunity to do better next time.

~ “I believe that God gives us challenges to overcome. It’s his way of letting us grow.” “So do you think that God is just testing me?” “It’s possible.” “But why?” “Only He knows why. We are too unenlightened to understand everything, but we can rely on the fact that all will be well in the end.” “How do you know? That it will end well?” “I just know. Believe me. One day, you will understand all of this.”   

~ “Why are there incredible people like you, and also those who want nothing more than to see people hang?” She tried to smile. “So that balance is not lost.” 

Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team by Mike Weinberg
~ Three core pillars of sales leadership—leading, managing, and coaching

~ Often, what is believed to be a sales problem turns out to be a leadership and culture problem.

~ True sales hunters are a unique and rare breed. The majority of sales teams are composed mostly of farmers (account managers) and engineers (product/service experts). 

~ The leader who is constantly preaching about holding people accountable for results and doesn’t follow through does more damage than if he hadn’t said anything in the first place. 
~ Salespeople are not paid to do work, or to be busy. The job is to drive revenue—specifically, new revenue. 

~ The salesperson doesn’t establish herself as a professional or assert control by setting up the meeting, sharing her agenda, and getting buy-in from the customer. Sellers approach the sales call already in presentation mode and are too quick to jump to a demo or presentation. Salespeople talk way too much and listen way too little. It’s very hard to come across as a professional problem solver when you don’t discover the customer’s real issues. As I’m fond of repeating: Discovery precedes presentation—always! 

~ The job of the sales manager is not to manage the sales department. Your primary job is to drive sales. There is no extra credit for dividing your time equally across all of your people, but there is fame and fortune for the sales leader who consistently over-delivers on results. 

~ Individual Business Plans Are a Gift to the Sales Leader 

  1. Goals—What are you going to achieve? 
  2. Strategies—How are you going to do it? 
  3. Actions—What are you going to do? 
  4. Obstacles—What’s in the way? 
  5. Personal Development, Growth, and Motivation—How do you want to grow this year and what will keep you motivated? 
~ Sales leaders, be wary of your tendency to chase after the next shiny new sales toy promising to alter the course of history. […] I have yet to encounter a sales team that failed to deliver what was expected of them because they were missing some newfangled sales tool or process. […] Sales teams underperform because sales leaders ignore or botch the very fundamentals of sales management.

The Midwife's Revolt (The Midwife Series Book 1) by Jodi Daynard
~ But I was also learning to defer. To defer was the lot of womankind.

~ How indifferent Nature can seem, at times, to our suffering!

~ Once you see a patient’s eyes shine with gratitude—well, if your heart does not break or your blood cringe, you are called for life. 

~ I was new at loss then, not a master as I am now.

~ Between pain and harm, my mother taught me, lay a vast moral divide. Sometimes one must cause pain to avoid harm. This lesson was my mother’s great gift to me. 

The Whole Brain Business Book, Second Edition: Unlocking the Power of Whole Brain Thinking in Organizations, Teams, and Individuals by Ned Herrmann, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi
~ Applying Whole Brain Thinking means being able to fully leverage one’s own preferences, stretch to other styles when necessary, and adapt to and take advantage of the preferences of those around you to improve performance and results.

~ Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. —Albert Camus

~ Preference is a matter of attraction; competence to perform a given task comes through training and experience. Competence can be developed to reasonable or even superior levels whether or not the person is attracted to the task (necessity can be the mother of competency). But true expertise and world-class competence are achieved almost exclusively in our areas of preference. 

~ Situational wholeness is the key to improving your personal effectiveness.

~ While people with strikingly different thinking preferences often have difficulty understanding each other, those with very similar thinking preferences can become competitive with each other. 

~ […] in many business situations, creativity is the element that makes the difference between success and failure. It can be the make-or-break competitive advantage, since we know that creativity is mental, and mental diversity is a key to the creative process. Business leaders who understand the significance of diversity in the creative process can take advantage of their organization’s potential by forming teams that are made up of people with different thinking-style preferences. 

~ No matter whom you are trying to influence, when you’re able to “meet them where they think,” you’ll be more efficient, and you’ll have a better chance of getting the response you’re looking for. 

~ I’m not suggesting that you abandon your natural preferences. Rather, this is about using your strengths more effectively in service of the business’s needs and, just as important, learning to see beyond the mental blind spots that may have resulted from your having applied and reinforced your preferences over the course of your life, education, and career. Embracing complexity requires constant learning and exposure to diverse points of view. 

~ Sometimes leaders at the top say they want a change agent, but then when they realize what that means—that at a personal level, they may need to go about doing things a little differently—their reaction is, ‘Are you kidding? We really don’t want to do things that way.’ 

~ Positive, creative change requires a mindset for change. A mindset is the way we see things, the part of our “cognitive unconscious” where we have already formed mental maps that become our point of reference for how we look at the world. 

~ I discovered that the public rewarded trying to be an artist to a far greater degree than it punished poor execution of the finished art. I found that the rewards outweighed the risks to such an extent that my activity level soon gave me the practice that I needed to overcome the skill deficits of a beginner. 

~ Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

About my America

I remember when I was about 10 or 11 years old, while still living in former Soviet Union, I went to a big concert accompany my grandfather to vote. I remember holding his hand tightly because there were so many people around us and I was afraid of getting lost. The mood was festive. Men, women and children were waving Soviet flags, some were singing popular Soviet songs...I believe it was an unusually warm autumn day.

When we got to the actual polling site, I remember asking my grandfather what was the point of voting if there is only one candidate on the ballot... and I also remember how he immediately pulled me aside and in an angry whisper told me to never, ever repeat that thought out loud to anyone ever again. I recall that it hurt my feelings to know that my grandfather, whom I adored, didn't approve of something I said, especially because it was evident to me that I was right.

Later that evening, my whole family gathered around our black and white TV set. "It's another landslide win for our communist party!" said the news anchor enthusiastically. "Our people have voted! Our ideals have been upheld once again! Long live proletariat and our communist leaders!" All over the news there were celebratory reports of yet another successful, "unanimous" win of a communist party. Of course, the communist party and its candidates were the only ones on the ballot. I watched, and for the first time in my life, I had doubts... about adults and life in general. 

My grandfather and grandmother were beautiful and wise people. They have seen it all...And I trusted them completely. I remember them explaining to me that "this is just how things are." They told me that they understood my questions and incredulity. After all, they were the ones who always took me seriously and expected me to think for myself, but for "everyone's safety," they told me, it's best to just not question things...

All during this election year, I have found myself often reflecting on that day which I now realize was a true coming of age moment. To me, that day, was an equivalent to realizing that your parents and grandparents won't live forever and won't be able to protect you from this big strange, illogical world. It was a hard pill to swallow.

Political discourse has never interested me before. Those seeds of distrust in the "system" grew roots in my psyche and those experiences have left a mark (or a scar..) Over the past 10 years, however, I have been paying much more attention. I suppose, the depth of my love for this country have began to outweigh the sad baggage created in me by the country where I was born. Or maybe because İ am now a parent and I have developed a sense of responsibility for the future generations.

Just two short days before our 2016 historic election, I find myself lost in thoughts and often with helpless tears in my eyes. America for me represents a beacon of hope (and, no, these are not just words). My America is the place that was once unknown and now is so dear, so special. My America is one where, I hope, my child is going to grow up and make it an even a better place. My America is the one where "the system" has proven itself over and over since 1776. Sure, it's not perfect! But let me tell you, it is still one of the best (for me, it is THE best) places to live. 

And since I so often don't have many answers, the following questions are running through my mind:

- will America be alright after this election?
- will the world be alright?
- will we be able to look each other in the eye on November 9 if the unthinkable happens?
- will I still feel at home here?
- will I still feel safer here than anywhere in the world?
- will there still be freedom of speech? Or will I have to tell my child that for "everyone's safety," it's best to keep our views private?
- will I have to hide that I am an immigrant, a refugee, a woman, a person of Jewish descent, or that I have an accent, or that I am married to a Turkish man? Or that I am an American citizen? Or anything else that makes me who I am?
- will 2016 be the kind of coming of age, rude awakening moment for my son akin to the one I experienced over 30 years ago? 
- will history be repeated...? 

And so with all these questions unanswered or unanswerable, with hope for a kinder world in which reason and common sense can prevail, with deepest love and gratitude for my beautiful America, MY country, and, admittedly, with a very heavy heart, I anxiously anticipate results of this unusual election.

May God bless America! My America... our America.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A letter to my 16 year old self


I am now old enough to be your mother. Which likely means that much of what I am about to say will sound like an esoteric bunch of gibberish to you. Bear with me, dear girl, and listen. I promise, I will keep it short. 

I know you are sad and heartbroken right now… But please, please try not worry so much about leaving the Soviet Union and starting a new life in America. I know you have so many questions. I won’t sugarcoat it – this journey won’t be an easy one. And yet, all you need to know now is that it's going to be OK. It will be better than OK, actually. You are going to figure it out! Yes, all of it! And New York City will become your “home sweet home.”

You will learn English and, you know what, you will master it enough to be as "witty” in English as you are in Russian. I dare say, you will even be wittier. 

Fear less (much less) and love more. I can’t explain it now but it will always be important. Just trust me on this one.

Spend as much time as you can with grandma, grandpa and mom. There will come a day when their hugs and their smiles will live only in your memories.  Listen more, be more patient and be kinder…You will always be their hope and their rock. They will always be your guiding light.

As much as you imagine your future of solitary existence, that kind of proud, passion-less un-attachment isn’t in the cards for you. You will find love or rather love will find you. And it will be real, boundless, crazy, “ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love” (as it will one day be described by Carrie Bradshaw in the HBO’s "Sex and the city" …but that’s much, much later.)  

Make gratitude, love and zest for life your personal religion.

Keep making art. It will always be your companion and your joy! In about 20 years or so, you’ll have a Master’s in art history, a website, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account. See, I told you, it will sound like gibberish!

You know how grandma often, lovingly and with kindness, wishes you to one day have a kid who will be just like you? She says he or she will be equally stubborn and strong-willed, will push your every button, question everything, will keep you on your toes and will make you want to be a better version of yourself? Well, watch out! Her wishes for you will become reality and it will be amazing. That’s all I am going to say right now.

You will be blessed with incredible friendships. Your soulmates will surround, embrace you and you will walk through life together with them. Never, ever take them for granted and always strive to give more than you receive.

This will absolutely sound like a cliché, but I will say it anyway – keep searching for your own voice and your north star. Don’t doubt that you can do anything. You will always be a work in progress, but as time goes by, you will get closer and closer to something resembling wisdom, a kind of “essence” of the human you are meant to be. Just keep working, learning and chipping away at this big, amazing pie called life.

Look for signs. The Universe will be speaking to you in hundreds of different ways. Pay attention. And don’t let any butterfly fly by without blessing it with your smile.

You’ve always wanted to have special powers. And guess what? You already have them. Many years from now you will discover names of these magical powers – compassion, empathy, love, attention…Doesn’t sound special enough for you? Oh my darling, you have so much more to learn.

And, my dear sweet girl, you will have to shave your legs... this is what they do here, in America. Seriously, as ridiculous as it sounds now, it is a non-negotiable, necessary evil. We will discuss underarms another time...

With a lot love, pride and faith in you,

Your older self.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

About truth and fireflies

It's always the airplane ride... what is it about the experience of being detached from the ground, 30,000 feet in the air that makes me want to weep and write and think... And pour my heart out. 

It is one of those moments. 

As I look outside the window, at the clouds, the wing of the airplane, I can't help but think of... Well everything and nothing all at once. The world outside seems calm and peaceful. And there is some kind of timeless wisdom about it all. Some kind of all-knowing "truth" that says: "don't fret little girl - it's all been done before. It's all been felt before."

My mind, of course, has a mind of its own. It grabs on to the idea of truth and gives it a whirl.

I give advice all the time. Helpfulness just bursts out of me like water out of an overflowing dam. I am a fixer. People open up to me. I suppose there is something about me which makes it easier to open up. I listen. I nod and speak. What do I speak of? My own experience, words of encouragement. I tell stories. I recommend action. I comfort. I repeat some sage words I have encountered along the way. I suppose at its very core, what I am doing is trying to help someone get closer to the truth, their truth. 

The older I get, however, I seem to let go of the grip of the “known” and open my palm to the “unknown,” as if trying to catch it like a firefly. 

As I give advice, more often than not I have been catching myself in the "act." As I utter the words in response to someone else's pain and doubt, at times despair, fear, or joy, something inside me moves uncomfortably. It is my own doubt, or perhaps my egoless, higher self. I don't know. It stirs things up. What do I know myself about the truth? What do I know about right or wrong? What gives me the right or privilege to be there for another soul's journey? How can I, a mere mortal, help them sort things out? I am but another traveler along the rocky roads of life, feeling my way through it all, searching for meaning.

And yet, at times, the uncomfortable feeling is replaced with some kind of invisible but very real divine reassurance. A kind of all-knowing voice that says: "You are exactly where you need to be. It is in fact your duty to be of service." I remember my grandmother often. She was an incredible doctor. No, not a doctor, she was a healer. She told me about having a calling - for her it was to heal people's bodies - and she told me about the oath doctors take, the Hippocratic Oath. I remember her telling me about one of the oldest binding promises by which doctors promise to “treat the ill to the best of one's ability.” My grandmother knew that’s what she was meant to do since she remembered herself.

Do I have a calling? What truth do I hold dear? I suppose for me it is to be of service of someone, in whatever way fate demands it. This realization came to me gradually and later in life. But I do remember as a little girl, growing up in the former Soviet Union, I dreamt of having special powers... And now, I know, there is nothing special about these special powers. I am simply here, on earth, with my palms opened, catching fireflies. And learning...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

About Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about meaning. And I’ve been meaning to write about it…Well, the truth is that I’ve been thinking about it since the beginning of this year and this is nineteenth variation of this blog post (so much for not overthinking, huh? See previous post on that topic) I have been starting and stopping it, writing and rewriting it for a long time.  Seriously, who has a blog and doesn’t post anything on it for months? Apparently, I do. 

As I get older, as the world turns and I feel blessed with brief moments of deeper awareness, I am often faced with a question - what is the meaning of [insert anything in parenthesis – life, suffering, work, parenting, illness, health, relationships, friendships, marriage….] For example: there is a big project, it will take hours and days and perhaps months to complete and to do well. What's the meaning in this work? And, an equally important question: is that meaning worthy enough of the precious hours of my life? And as the weeks pass by, I take stock, more questions: What have I accomplished? What was the meaning of the tasks I got done? And what's the ratio of meaningful things and actions to meaningless things and actions? And am I pleased with that ratio?

And these questions then haunt me and don’t let me sleep. They demand answers. These questions demand resolutions. Above all, these questions demand a certain specific way of living one’s life. The voice in my head (the loudest one) screams: "Are you lockstep with your values? Are you making a positive impact in the lives of others? And is that impact meaningful?" 

Now, let me admit right up front that the answers are fuzzy and ill-defined. Who am I kidding, most of the time I don’t have any answers. (Yes, you read it right – there is no punch line or a big reveal down below.) As Joan Didion, an American author, famously said “I don't know what I think until I write it down.” I suppose, I write to find meaning. This post isn't a set of answers but rather an invitation to join me in my private / public conversation with myself in search for meaning.  

Last year, I read a whole book on meaning. It shook my consciousness like few other books ever have. The book is called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. If you haven’t read it, you must…

Frankl writes: “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.” Is that powerful or what? Frankl survived an incredibly hard life and found meaning in it AND lived to write about it.  Does it mean we all can?

While it may seem that the meaning of anything needs to be grandiose, too big to grasp, theoretical, what Frankl teaches us is that meaning comes from putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work, showing up for life, even when we are broken, even when things are hopeless, even when we are hitting a new low every day… Just taking responsibility for one task at a time. It may sound un-glamorous and yet it feels so right.  

There is a lot more written on the meaning of meaning…and I can fill this blog with a ton of quotes (you know, I am good at finding good quotes. If not, just see my previous blog post.) Instead I want to leave you with some questions:
  • What is meaningful to you? 
  • Are you sure about that? 
  • How do you know that it is meaningful? 
  • Since you are so certain about that thing that is so meaningful to you, what are you doing about it? Yes, you – are you creating more of that meaning in your life?

Earlier this year, I declared that this will be the year of “Meaning,” with a big M. While I am far from clarity, what I know for sure, is that finding meaning feels immensely important to me. Does it to you?